Marketing Focus- What Industry are you in?

How strikingly honest!
The recent statement by the newly appointed Managing Director of the Myer department store network was refreshingly candid and open.He declared that in recent years Myer had lost its relevance to many consumers and that it would take at least 3 years to redress.The figures and history support and endorse those sentiments.Since the public listing of the company Myer Holdings Limited in 2009 at $4.10 per share, those prices had declined to just $1.35 during the week of the statement.  That is a 67% decline.In its announcement to shareholders the company revealed that profits had been reduced by 23%, and that dividends would be wound-back from 9 cents to 7 cents, a fall of 22%.A major contributing factor to the malaise was poor customer service, and the perceived and real absence of sufficient numbers of service providers on shop floors.

One analyst from an international banking group concluded that Myer would need to invest at least $23 million per annum in recruiting and retaining an additional 8 to 12 new sales people in each store, to re-establish a positive marketplace presence and service standard.

This is a pertinent and timely case study for all business owners and managers.

The real issue is not pleasing existing and retained customers.  Rather, the principal task is to win back, re-educate and reassure those consumers who have been lost to the business in recent times.

They have retreated from any relationship with the experience, expectations and belief that Myer do not employ sufficient staff members and provide, at best, poor customer service.

The magnitude and complexity of the task at hand are evident in a parallel circumstance with the same company some 35 years ago.

I was lecturing in marketing and management at the Curtin University and was retained by Myer to work with and consult to the senior management team in Western Australia.

The company had been trading in the state for 9 years and had not once recorded an annual profit.

Marketing Focus conducted extensive research among consumers.  A key finding was that 25% of people who did not shop at Myer did not do so primarily because the retailer did not accept the credit card, Bankcard.

The state Managing Director called me into his office and declared he could not accept the research findings and that he would not be paying the account.

He explained that at the time of the Bankcard introduction 5 years before, Myer had decided not to accept that credit card.  Widespread adverse consumer reactions necessitated a reversal of the decision some 3 months later.  He went on to share the fact was that Myer had been accepting and transacting Bankcard for 4 years and 9 months.

The important lesson was that in the mind of those consumers who had been rejected in their attempts to utilise their Bankcard 5 years prior (and had accordingly decided not to shop there again) Myer still did not accept Bankcard.

The key point is:

The consumers’ perceptions are the retailers’ reality.
Some 18 months were invested by Myer in strategic initiatives before a notable upturn in patronage patterns began to emerge, with significant progress taking some 3 years.  The account was paid.

Remember, customer service does cost.  No customer service costs more, because you lose customers, image, preference, loyalty and repeat business.

At all times invest in people, training, sales and relationships.


Good morale is the first step to increased confidence, performance, sales and profits.  It accounts for much in personal and group performance.  Let me establish a relevant context for that statement.

There has been considerable discussion in recent times about the lack of consumer confidence, and its significant, negative impact on demand and revenue.

Confidence is an interesting, subjective and contagious state of mind.  Positive confidence begets and provides positive attitudes.  Conversely, a lack of confidence is the catalyst for more of the same.

Identifying the genesis of confidence is a fascinating study.  It evolves from daily newspaper headings, radio news bulletins, lead-stories on television, reports from emails and social media texts … oh, and don’t forget the well-chronicled and applauded “word-of-mouth”.

Business owners, managers, and staff members are effective in passing on advice, information, intelligence, attitudes and both positive and negative measures of confidence.  Utterances like “business is tough”, “it’s struggle street”, “sales are flat” and “the economy is dead” become self-fulfilling impediments.

Public pronouncements by senior managers about pending retrenchments and staff number reductions have immediate and widespread negative impacts.  Self-interest and self-preservation come to the fore.  Teamwork and workplace cohesion are shattered.  Morale collapses, as a prelude to falling performance levels, and trust is, well, trashed.

Insecurity arises.  So too does anxiety.  The future-focus shortens, often from proactive to reactive.  The “rumour-mill” goes into overdrive.

A certain sense of “the inevitable” evolves and pervades.

Some senior executives are bewildered by, what – to them – are unexpected consequences of such public pronouncements.  They were not what the Human Resources Department forecast and advised.

Perhaps we need more Human Sensitivity Departments, and a bundle more Emotional Intelligence.


There is an inextricable and progressive link between morale, confidence and enhanced performance levels.

The initial and primary endeavour at all times should be to promote, encourage, support and celebrate, good, positive morale.

That will in turn provide the foundation for confidence among individuals and groups to ask for and convert potential transactions into revenue.

Revenue generates profits, funds, wages and dividends.

Consumption fulfils needs, aspirations and wants, leading to satisfaction, repeat and referral business.


The moral to the story is that staff morale is an influential self-determinant in what we experience, enjoy and inspire.  A greater and more concerted focus on the cause (morale) will ultimately lead to better and more positive effects (confidence).

Trust me.  The money is in the bank.


“Disruptive” entrepreneurism and technology are causing havoc to many established and staid businesses and sectors.

From taxis (think UBER), to advertising, news publication, production, distribution, consulting and retailing the impacts have been immediate, substantial and sustaining.

Counter- and defensive strategies are being formulated, documented and implemented, with varying degrees of success.  There is a sense that businesses need to fight back.

Noticeably, a large percentage of “disruptive” initiatives are not original or unique.  Indeed, most are adaptations, refinements and extensions of existing products, services, practices and processes.

Contrarian strategists and consultants have quickly realised that “disruptive” entrepreneurism and technology are dependent, rather than independent variables.  That is, they depend on the inertia of business owners and management teams.

Therefore, the most effective counter-measure available is to redefine, embrace and maintain a corporate culture centred on self-induced disruption.

Accordingly, expressions like “we’ve already done it that way”, “that’s the way it’s done here”, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “that’s how the system works” need to be promptly discarded.

The on-going reflection, review, refinement, development and enhancement of practices, policies and philosophy are and will increasingly become imperatives.  They will address and redress the evolving and emerging rapidity of change, whilst improving the “fit” of the company, its products, services, application and people to the marketplace – leaving little or no scope or relevance for externally introduced disruptive strategies, tactics and competitive forces.

Imagine: Disrupting disruption.


Businesses that are reducing staff and cutting costs still need to get the administrative work completed efficiently.  New projects often need support to get the work finalised on time.

A Virtual Assistant is a financially attractive and efficient alternative.  Hiring a Virtual Assistant is an asset to any business, as it increases business productivity, saves time, reduces stress and lowers costs.   Virtual Assistants save businesses money, improve profitability and enhance productivity.

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Product and service differentiation is a virtue.  It is a competitive edge and a compellingly attractive message.

The goal to be different is largely understood and pursued.  However, the true measure of the innate advantages and benefits is difficult to quantify and to articulate.

Let me try to do so, in a single word:

Imagine.  Nothing compares.  Not in relative or absolute terms.  There is no need to reposition competitive or substitute products, services, entities or people.  How do you achieve such an exalted, favourable circumstance?

How indeed.  Simply by being …

Significantly, for many existing and prospective clients, the whole premise and concept aligns with their own self-image.  That is, I am …

The promise is encapsulated in a single phrase:
As individual as you.
To be different from competitors, while in accord with targeted and preferred clients, customers and consumers – that is some statement.  It provides a different perspective on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Therein lies the challenge for those who aspire to sustainable leadership in jewellery,  fashion, cosmetics, motor vehicles, design, housing, accounting, law, finance – indeed – for all sectors.

Leadership is itself not a static phenomenon.  It is a consequence of a dynamic reality.  The idealised outcome is to maintain constant harmony with the marketplace, while cutting loose any ties with those who seek to compete.


It is a great question.  It is challenging, confronting and often affronting.  Contemplation on that fundamental point often leads to reviews, reflections and determinations on the current business model.

Corporate history is littered with examples of economy-leading and dominant sectors and entities rapidly becoming redundant and irrelevant.

In the early 1900s railways confronted a significant change in the competitive landscape.  Motor vehicles and societal mobility necessitated a change of track, so to speak.

More recently, the appeal and presence of 6-and 8-cylinder “gas guzzling” family motor vehicles have been impacted by the sophisticated innovations of high-powered 4-cylinder vehicles and the ubiquitous SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles).

Light bulb manufacturers have had to gear up and retool to embrace technological change.  And what of the humble printing machine.  3-D has been a revolutionary addition to printers, manufacturing and medical implants.

Bicycle-powered couriers, who were once conspicuous in most cities are, today, a mere fond memory.

Charge-card services like American Express are exposed, threatened and losing appeal.  At least five significant mobile payment systems, including those being promoted by Apple, Google and Facebook are in advanced stages of development.  Many people and business will reasonably ask why they should retain and accept charge-cards, like American Express.

How ironic!  Kodak, the very essence of traditional photography, developed digital photography.  The company did not readily and quickly embrace the concept.  That was left to competitors and, more significantly, substitute entities, including electronic and mobile phone manufacturers.  Modern photography is not reliant on silver and paper-based reproductions.  It is a whole new industry.

Protecting long-established products, practices and applications can be laudable.  It can also be ill-advised.  Recently, Kodak had to seek and to secure Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in the United States of America, to enable it to continue to trade.  There is a long return journey to be negotiated.

And now, the august institution, Australia Post, has heralded a pending 43% increase in postage costs for letters from 70 cent to $1:00, with a lengthening in delivery times from “next day” to 3 days.

Can and will post ever effectively compete with – and, possibly beat – emails, texts and the spoken word?  Efficiency, effectiveness and cost comparisons imply it is a formidable challenge.

In recent times Australia Post has been progressively refining its business model.  This is evidenced by the introduction of digital post office boxes, and the broadening of the product/service mix available from Post Shops.  The typical range totals some 1300 SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units), of which fewer than 60 relate to postal and philatelic merchandise.  That is around the same product range as an Aldi discount supermarket.

A significant growth in the home deliveries of products purchased on-line reflects the dynamics of the prevailing market forces.  And yet, on-line sales still only represent 6.3% of total resale sales.

The cascading effect on the supply chain highlights the importance of logistics and distribution.

Little wonder that Japan Post has recently lodged a reported $6 billion takeover for Toll Holdings, Australia’s largest logistics company, with operations that extend throughout Asia.  That is a pending threat to the presence and dominance of Australia Post within Australia.

Future enhancements in nano-technology will inevitably result in smaller products’ services, applications and, yes, businesses.  Prices too, will become smaller.  Increased productivity will result in more free-time and better timing.  Skill-sets will vary.


The true measure of relevance of a company, product, service and application is often determined by its “fit” to the marketplace.

That is, the context, which can be, and often is, more important and influential than the content.

Indeed, the former can and does impact directly on the latter.

For instance, are postal services redundant to most?  Some 98% of mail-usage is generated by business and public sector entities complying with regulatory obligations and practices.  To many the service offering that is not pertinent, nor applied by individual consumers.

Therefore, why persist with the trading name:

Australia Post
It is as relevant as Post and Rail Fencing is to urban residents.  What does it all mean?


These case studies are further evidence that the changes being experienced at present are not seasonal or cyclical.  They are indeed structural.

It behoves all business owners and leaders to reassess and redefine:
What industry are we in?
The answer will inevitably evoke a lot of questions … and changes.

Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected conference keynote speaker, business strategist and consumer behaviour analyst.His customised, extensively researched addresses have high impact and make lasting impressions.
Barry Urquhart
Marketing Focus
M:      041 983 5555
T:       08 9257 1777
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